The glow of hope was replaced by the tarnish of despair in just three years after Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018 as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The world watched initially with awe as the new leader freed political prisoners, took up the plight of Oromo interests being ignored in the growth of Addis Ababa, promised democratic elections, and a dialogue with all of Ethiopia’s varied and many ethnic groups. But this new wave of democracy would not last.
A major part of his rise in political popularity was the civil actions of the Qeerro demonstrators and support of Oromo activists including Jawar Mohammed who accompanied the new Prime Minister on his tour meeting diaspora in the United States. Today Jawar Mohammed and others sit in jail without a real due process. The Oromo whose cause was once championed by the Prime Minister suffer extrajudicial killings without restriction.
Early in his new role, Abiy Ahmed complimented the Tigray as an example of a good regional government in discussing with the Ethiopian parliament what should be expected of elected officials.
Now Ethiopia is involved in a civil war with an ever growing number of participants from almost all regions of Ethiopia joining the Tigray and Oromo fighters who clearly see that the Prime Minister has violated his supreme duty to follow the Ethiopian constitution and act in the best interests of Ethiopia.
The Tigray regional state had only 9000 armed forces in its service in November 2020 not the 250,000 claimed. Build ups in Eritrea and Amhara as well as severe cutting of budgets normally allotted by population and most importantly the characterization of the Tigray leadership as “terrorists” even after they had left power peacefully created an intolerable environment. It is literally a miracle that they were able to survive the initial onslaught of the combined forces of Ethiopia and Tigray estimated to be over 150,000. No doubt that a part of this revival was due to the will to overcome the intentional and massive genocide being acted upon the innocent Tigray population.
As someone who has lived and worked in Tigray for the past 7 years until I was forced to evacuate I have spent time in many regions talking to farmers, city dwellers, and thousands of patients and their families. The representation that the Tigray were subjugated to an unpopular despotic regional government is nonsense. What ever differences existed have been dismissed as the vast majority of Tigrayans, the Tegaru, are united in the purpose of avoiding an intended complete genocide. No doubt this is why Abiy Ahmed and his followers have such a fear of children, the elderly, and mothers of the Tigray that they want to arrest all of them immediately.
Today, Ethiopia is a failed state due to the chameleon nature of the Prime Minister and his followers which have now revoked all their promises. Many of his former supporters are now in prison. There is no free speech, no free press, no growing economy, and now Ethiopia is becoming identified most closely with outlaw nations like North Korea, Iran, and yes especially Eritrea. Ethiopia has allied itself with the enemies of all the values it once promised to hold most dear.
Instead of coming to the major Oromo cultural event of the year, Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and of Oromo ancestry, decided instead to send armed soldiers and pickup trucks mounted with high caliber machine guns. Witnesses from the scene report that unarmed Oromos began to protest the jailing of Jawar Mohammed and others while shouting “down with Abiy!”. In response the large crowd was sprayed with bullets killing many. Doctor contacts at Paulos Hospital in Addis Ababa report many causalities, at least more then 10, some in serious condition have so far been received.
This week the Oromo people of Ethiopia who make up the largest ethnic group of over 30% celebrate a special holiday called Irrecha. It signifies the end of the rainy cold season. The event usually occurs near a large body of water to honor the nature deity, Waaqa, and give thanks for the blessings of the past year. It is more than a religious holiday as Oromia of all faiths Christian and Muslim also celebrate the holiday as a day of unity and cultural recognition.
Abiy Ahmed’s father was Oromo and in his Parliamentary position, Abiy Ahmed was a representative of the Oromo area just north of Addis. His rise to power was fueled by Oromo leader, Jawar Mohammed, and his Qeero (bachelor) movement. However since taking power, the PM switched allegiance to Amhara expansionists who have a long history of enslaving and denying rights to the Oromo. He has jailed on charges of terrorism many of his previous Oromo supporters and mentors including Mohammed. An armed resistance, the Oromo Liberation Army, is growing by the day in hopes to depose the Prime Minister who they see as a traitor to the Oromo cause.
Tomorrow a major celebration is planned at a sacred lake in Bishoftu a short distance from Addis Ababa. However, now security forces are blocking the highway connecting from Addis Ababa trying to stop the gathering. Apparently Abiy Ahmed fears that more protests against the government will occur embarrassing the PM that his own people are against him while this week he is in the midst of the upcoming presentation of his new Prosperity Party government this week. Many Oromia and others feel these elections in their regional state were unfair to opposition parties.
Jawar Mohammed predicted in October 2020 that Abiy Ahmed would build a personal authoritarian rule that polarized Ethiopian society leading to civil war that collapsed the state.
In late October 2020 Jawar Mohammed an Abiy Ahmed ally who was key to Ahmed coming to power wrote a prophetic prediction of a disaster the leadership of Abiy Ahmed could bring to Ethiopia. His work was published in the Addis Standard, the leading newspaper of Addis Ababa on October 28, 2020 but had been written some time before. Jawar Mohammed was in prison awaiting trial for terrorism and remains there still. A review of his predictions is chillingly accurate to the chaos and loss of life that has come to pass. Note that the members of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front expressed similar views having known Ahmed well during his time in the security services.
From 2014 through 2016 growing protests occurred in the Oromo Regional State of Ethiopia which constitutes in excess of 30% of the total 110 million Ethiopians. An Oromian, Jawar Mohammed ran a media company based in the United States emerged as a leader of the new movement. He lead a nonviolent but very massive uprising called the Qeerroo (young unemployed unmarried men) movement which spread to all of Oromia, Addis Ababa, and inspired similar actions in other regions.
As they gained momentum the leaders including Jawar Mohammed felt they had three options in changing from an authoritarian state under the coalition organized by the late TPLF leader Meles Zenawi. They felt an overt overthrow was too dangerous and a prolonged negotiated transplacement was too complicated and lengthy. Instead they decided a transformation through a transitional leader was the best way to join moderates throughout Ethiopia together.
Working with Lemma Megersa, the leader of the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization, a “soft coup” was done. In the course of this process Lemma suggested that his protégé , Abiy Ahmed be the new leader. However, Jawar Mohammed had his doubts because of Ahmed’s inexperience with politics and administration. He felt Abiy Ahmed demonstrated a simplistic view and extreme personal ambition which was concerning..
Despite his concerns Jawar Mohammed became an ally of Abiy Ahmed who initially welcomed the return of Oromia opposition groups with open arms. He felt could play three roles to Ahmed including advisor, providing constructive criticism, and working for stability. However soon a downward spiral began. As soon as he assumed power, Ahmed began to remove other reformers who had helped him. Suddenly they became terrorists. Jawar Mohammed sees the disunity of the reform movement as being complicit in allowing Abiy Ahmed to rapidly change from reformer to autocrat.
Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and head of his self created Prosperity Party, to many rather than bringing a new vision which encourages development of a universally accepted national unity has instead re-aggravated old flames. His inability to escape internal colonialism, a recurring theme in Ethiopian politics, may be the straw that broke the camel’s back in breaking up the Ethiopian empire.
The rise of Abiy Ahmed was propelled first by the strong calls for inclusivity of the Oromia who make up at least 30% of the Ethiopian population in government. However the initial enthusiasm in cooperation was tempered when a division of the goals developed between many Oromia leaders and the Prime Minister was created. The Prime Minister switched allegiances to the Amhara elites who argued for a more traditional Amhara led model of government giving more power to the central government and less to the regional states. Even though currently the Tigray “rebellion” gets the most national attention there now opposition groups many of which are carrying out armed insurrection in most of the regional states of Ethiopia.
Internal colonialism is a reoccurring theme in the struggle for control of the Ethiopian federal state. We often hear the term colonialism and see it most commonly applied as an external phenomena referring to the history of European powers attempts to colonize and control African states over the past two centuries but internal colonialism especially in the case of the Ethiopia, a country which claims it has never been colonized by an outside nation, is one of the dominant forces against sustainment of peace in a empire of many nations.
In 1925 Adolph Hitler described the concept that Germany as an integral part of Europe, had the right to acquire adjacent lands that were poorly utilized and under populated as a result of the unfair treaties ending World War I in 1925. He saw his ethnic group as a part of greater Europe who by right of superiority which was inherent in their nationality had not only the right but the obligation to take control of his neighbors. A description of this type of justification for political action would wait until many years later.
Although first used briefly to describe the situation in South African apartheid in 1957 this concept becomes well defined by the Mexican sociologist, Pablo González Casanova, in his 1965 book, Democracy in Mexico where he defined internal colonialism as a result of the structure of social relations and exploitation between heterogeneous cultural groups. Although the term is named “internal” he notes the effect of outside powers global and regional does have an effect on this interaction. Traditional social struggle theory as one between classes such as in Europe and the United States is not the only relevant or maybe even predominant factor. Patrimony and oligarchy tend to develop in the push to create strong capitalist systems to engender economic viability of the state. Paulo Henrique Martins , French scholar has described that there is a relationship between social, political, and intellectual imagery that develops and helps steer political action by the dominate group over the lesser ones.
A well known phenomena commonly seen in developing countries as noted by the World Bank is that their capital cities tend to develop much faster then the rest of the country. I have written about how the Addis Ababa identity differs significantly than that of the rest of the Ethiopia. Peter Calvert has described how this accelerated growth of cities and its effects on the surrounding area becomes the center of power, identity, and social action. It should be noted that Ethiopia is most rural country in world (90%) such that Addis Ababa with a population of 4 million in a country with 110 million represents barely 0.4% of the population. As I have previously written the growth of other cities and universities is beginning in other regional states but they have little political impact.
Ethiopia was ruled by Amharic royal for centuries until attempted coups began in 1960 ultimately leading to a socialist communist takeover in 1974 called the “Derg” or worker’s party which was heavily supported by the Soviet Union. It was quite repressive although ideally not specifically linked to any particular ethnic group. Then a popular uprising revolted against the Derg leading to new leadership lead by the Tigray Liberation Peoples Front in cooperation with other ethnic fighter groups. Following the death of Melez Zenawi in 2012 uprisings in the Oromia and Amhara regions eventually lead to the placement of Abiy Ahmed, a half Oromia, half Amhara as the Prime Minister in 2018.
Although initially promising free speech, welcoming of opposition groups, political prisoner release, free press, and creating a new political party based upon a unifying national identity all was short lived. He went on to imprison Oromia allies who helped bring him to power, made dissent illegal by person or press, outlawed the leaders of the Tigray regional state calling them terrorists and finally invaded Tigray with the help of an old enemy Eritrea.
When you look at Ethiopia it is a tough region in which to thrive. There is very little water for agriculture and very little land which is really productive for food. The term internal colonialism was used by Oromia opposition groups against the TPLF during their dominance as they felt the federal government was interfering too much in land use and distribution decisions. Similarly the area of Western Tigray which is also very fertile has increasingly been claimed by Amhara elites.
As I previously discussed there has never been a strong claim of a national unity except by the Amhara peoples. Many other groups continue to claim national ethnic identity that trumps their Ethiopian identity. Those who are more educated and/or spent significant time living or being in university in Addis Ababa are more likely to see their Ethiopian identity over their regional one.
Meles Zenawi the late leader of the TPLF developed the concept of the democratic developmental state. This was based in large part in how South Korea recovered following World War II and the Korean conflict where at first their was a military oligarchy that had a first priority to create an infrastructure and lead business initially but then over time would allow more economic Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). freedom of private interests but with significant government input. Although there was a vision of a coalition of nations in forming the government via Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) Meles realized that there was in fact a danger of internal colonialism taking root. The argument of one nation versus a confederation of nations was continued by opposition groups which magnified upon his death in 2015.